Video poker is often the game of choice for serious casino-goers who want to use their wits and strategy to get the most out of each trip. Each machine has its own set of quirks, and knowing the ins and outs of a particular game can get the house advantage down to a fraction of one percent. In some cases, these machines even offer the player a slight edge with perfect play – something that may be difficult to pull off, but is far from impossible, as many professional gamblers can attest.
Bonus Poker is one of the most common forms of the game, one you’ll find at most large casinos and in plenty of multi-game cabinets that allow you to choose from various titles. It’s also one of the more common versions found at online gaming sites, possibly trailing only the two standbys – Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild – in popularity. It’s a game that offers a lot of alternative ways to win while still maintaining most of the basic strategy that veterans of Jacks or Better will already understand.
A Video Poker Primer
Bonus Poker will feel familiar to anyone who has played a video poker machine before. However, if you aren’t familiar with these machines, it might first help to have an idea of what’s going on before you jump in any attempt to play this game.
Most machines start with the player choosing to make a bet of anywhere between one and five coins. Many machines also allow you to play multiple hands at once; when this is the case, you’ll pay for each hand – so ten hands at five coins apiece will cost you 50 in total. It is often only possible to win the full jackpot amount for a royal flush (or whatever the highest ranking hand is) if you have bet five credits, so keep that in mind when you play.
Once you’ve made your bet and ask to be dealt a hand, you will be given five cards out of a standard deck (some also include one or more jokers, but that is not an issue for this game). You may choose to hold as many of those cards as you like. All other cards will be discarded and replaced with new cards from the deck. If you are playing a multi-hand game, each hand will receive new cards independently at this point, but all hands will keep the same held cards.
At this point, your hands are completed, and you will be awarded credits according to the strength of your hand(s). The minimum hand needed to win will vary depending on the type of game you are playing; in this case (much as in Jacks or Better), the minimum winning hand is a pair of jacks. As hands get stronger, the payouts go up. Keep in mind that all payouts are made on a “for one” basis: much like a slot machine, your initial bet is considered lost when you make it, and is not returned as part of a win.
Quad Bonuses Spice Up Pay Table
The exact payouts will depend on the machine you play on. The most player favorable Bonus Poker pay table is known as the 8/5 table, in reference to the payouts for full houses and flushes respectively. The entire payout is as follows:
- Royal Flush: 800
- Straight Flush: 50
- Four Aces: 80
- Four of a Kind (Twos through Fours): 40
- Four of a Kind (All Others): 25
- Full House: 8
- Flush: 5
- Straight: 4
- Three of a Kind: 3
- Two Pair: 2
- Pair of Jacks or Higher: 1
Proper Strategy Requires Careful Planning
The first rule of proper Bonus Poker strategy is to know exactly what kind of machine you are playing. In other words, you have to know the pay table that is in use both to ensure you get the best odds possible, and to be sure you are playing correctly (there can be some minor changes when the payouts for various hands are altered). Common lesser-paying alternatives to the 8/5 table are 7/5, 6/5, and tables that offer bigger rewards for full houses, flushes, and straights in exchange for only giving one credit for two pair. Most of these tables still offer reasonable paybacks compared to slots and most table games, but they aren’t the best versions of this machine.
As for actual play strategy, this version of video poker is notoriously tricky, with a few situations being somewhat hard to explain to novice players. However, there are ways to get very close to optimal returns simply by reading down a list, picking the first option that corresponds to something you have in your hand, and keeping the appropriate cards in your hand (discarding the rest). We’ve found one traditional strategy chart that has been passed around that includes 29 rules for playing, which can be a bit of a mouthful to digest.
However, there’s a cute little shortcut that you can use if you simply want to play this game casually. Because Bonus Poker is very similar to Jacks or Better, it turns out that there are few situations in which the proper decisions are different – and even fewer where the difference in return is significant enough to make much of a dent in the player’s expected value. In fact, experts on the game have found that using proper Jacks or Better strategy only costs the player 0.01% over using the “better” Bonus Poker strategies!
With that in mind, we’re happy to present a simple strategy that was developed for Jacks or Better here, knowing that it is perfectly good to use in this game, as well. While simple, this set of rules only costs players less than 0.1% in expectation over optimal Jacks or Better play; similarly, this should keep you very close to the maximum payout for 8/5 Bonus Poker as well.
To use this strategy, simply read from the top down until you find a hand or set of cards that you can keep. Hold on to those cards, discarding the rest. For the purposes of this list, a “high card” means any jack or higher. Here’s the list in full:
- Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House, or Three of a Kind
- Four Cards to a Royal Flush
- Flush or Straight
- Four Cards to a Straight Flush
- Two Pair
- Pair of Jacks or Higher
- Three Cards to a Royal Flush
- Four Cards to a Flush
- Any Pair
- Four Cards to an Open-Ended Straight
- Two High Cards (Same Suit)
- Three Cards to a Straight Flush
- Two High Cards (Different Suits)
- Face Card and a Ten of the Same Suit
- One High Card
If you do not have anything on this list, discard all cards and hope for a winning hand on the redraw. By the way, this strategy is also reasonably good for some other machines, such as Aces and Faces, Bonus Deluxe, and (to a lesser extent) Double Bonus games.
A Great Alternative for Players Who Want Change
If you’ve never played video poker in the past, this may not be the best game to start with: something simpler, like Jacks or Better, is probably a better bet for you. But if you’re already a veteran of some of the more common variants, then Bonus Poker might provide just enough of a change to keep you from getting bored with the game in general.
As we’ve already pointed out, you don’t really have to learn a new strategy to play this game. But if you want to, there are a number of quirks and marginal situations that you can learn to make your returns just a little bit better than you’d otherwise earn by playing a more basic strategy. For those who love optimizing their play and working out how to squeeze every last penny from a machine, this is a perfect challenge, one that will test your skills but also reward your efforts with excellent returns.